On Writing and the Unexpected: Glenn Memorial UMC Offers Writing Group


By Ann Rushing

Writing is a great way to process so many things that we deal with in our lives. Yet, the age of digital communications, such as Twitter, Facebook and emails, and the emphasis on concise speech with bullet points and time limits reduces the benefits the written word gives us. Honestly, how much processing can one really do in 140 characters?

I missed writing. I know no one stopped me from writing in a journal or keeping a diary, but I just could not seem to start. Luckily for me, Claire Asbury Lennox started a writing class at Glenn last year. I thought this would be just the focus I needed to be more diligent and disciplined about creative writing. 

For reasons I am now forgetting, the year 2015 brought more reflections on events and people from my past. I wished I could ask Mom or Dad; why hadn’t I asked Mom or Dad? Now they are not available for the questions. I suppose it is just my age that made me realize how quickly facts and memories slip away from a family if someone does not write their stories. 

My mother must have had the same realization when she was around my age. I have lots of facts about relatives and pieces of furniture. My grandmother was a librarian, and she provided lots of identification about folks in old pictures, including writing their names on their foreheads in the picture! I found myself longing for the rich stories associated with these people and places. I struggle to remember the stories I have heard about these relatives. For me, it is not the big facts of who married whom and where they lived. I wanted to preserve the jokes told at a family reunion and the small shared moments together. In case my children ever have this same curiosity, I thought I better start writing at least what I know. This project is my own little Story Corp for our family, and Claire’s class would provide the impetus to begin.

Claire was finishing her Masters in Fine Arts at the time she began the class. She had requirements needed to complete the program, and teaching this class would help her meet those. For her students (US!), Claire offered the skills she was being taught. Claire emphasized the class would be a memoir writing class and began by teaching from the wealth of resources she has on constructing memoirs. She introduced us to passages that were constructed in ways that conveyed emotions and to phrases used to emphasize the author’s intent with a minimum of well-chosen words. Claire gave us exercises in class to help us learn to dredge up the feelings that are associated with the facts we remember. (At one point, Claire was ready to move on, I think, and we begged for more exercises!) 

Try one yourself. Write down five public events that occurred during your life before age 18. Take only about 3 minutes to make the list. Now, pick one and write about the event, emphasizing how you felt when you learned the news, how people around you reacted, and how the event changed you, if it did. The class members my age included on our lists the day John Kennedy was shot and the Vietnam War. The younger members led off with the events on 9/11. The Challenger explosion was an overlap between the age groups. We only wrote about our chosen event for about 10 minutes, and we only shared our piece if we desired to do so. Once the sharing began, we were enthralled by the different perspectives each of us had on the same event. I was amazed by what memories lingered way back in my brain!

If you know Claire, you know she is generous with her talents and positive in her approach. Claire is the same when she teaches. That said, Claire could be much tougher on me than she is. Attempts have been made, and several pieces are in progress on documenting the memories of my life. I still have the bad habits of thinking I’ll finish that later and of putting other mundane things in life ahead of my goals for writing. Maybe confessing this on a church blog will provide the magic elixir to be more proactive on this project. 

Even knowing I am not prioritizing my writing project, I will continue to participate in Claire’s new sessions. I love learning of other people’s approaches to their projects and hearing their pieces. I am inspired by the diligence others bring to their projects and encouraged to do more. I am delighted to be the recipient of Claire’s knowledge of this area. I enjoy having a class so different from my occupation in which to participate. 

Our core group is supportive and close. Where else do you find friends to listen to your home movies, who will gently tell you how to change that phrase to gain emphasis on the emotions you were trying to convey, who will pat you on the arm if tears come along with the words. Being true to the spirit of Glenn, we do not always stick to memoir writing, either. Our members have shared fiction, poetry, and even stories written through obituaries.

Glenn is indeed a rich spiritual community. Glenn offers support in ways we would expect of a church community and in many ways I would not expect. Writing class is one of those unexpected pleasures. I hope others will be encouraged to take advantage of this creative outlet to hone their writing skills and keep an art form, which we too often forget to practice, alive!

Ann Rushing and her family are Decatur residents and have been members of Glenn Memorial UMC since 1980. Ann is a practicing CPA in the Decatur area. This piece is republished from the Glenn Memorial blog. See the orignial posting at www.glennumc.org/blog/2016/1/6/on-writing-and-the-unexpected